Catch crops are widely and successfully used in Germany and The Netherlands to significantly improve the output of arable and energy crop rotations. SAATEN UNION have led development of the catch crop systems by providing the market with a succession of excellent varieties and a wealth of technical expertise developed by the team at specialist plant breeder, PH PETERSEN. Elsoms are now working closely with SAATEN UNION'S team to make the same varieties and services available to UK farmers and growers.
What is Catch Cropping?
Catch crops can make as important a contribution to a farm's overall income as major crop types through their effect on long term soil health. As a result Catch Crops warrant as much attention and input the main combinable and root crops their use is designed to support. As farmer Peter Hinze explains in the "Catch Crop Case Study", they are not “in-between” crops but deliver an overall return such that the seed costs are “hardly worth mentioning”. Soil quality directly effects the yield potential of the crops that are grown in and on it and the objective of growing a catch crop is to improve soil quality and hence yield and income potential. Catch cropping improves soil quality by protecting soil against erosion, locking in nitrogen, preventing nutrient loss, promoting biological activity and improving soil structure.
Benefits of Catch Cropping
1. Soil Nutrients
Catch Crops improve the content and management of nutrients in the soil. Losses of existing nutrients due to leeching are reduced whilst through incorporation and/or through the nature of the catch crop nutrient levels can be increased and released back into the soil at a time when the next crop can use them.
2. Soil Structure
The vigorous, extensive and deep rooting habits of catch crops such as CONTRA RADISH can significantly improve the structure and quality of soil.
3. Soil Health
Catch crops can have a very beneficial effect on soil health with respect to pests and diseases such as, for example, Take All, Beet Cyst Nematode, Potato Cyst Nematode etc. They can also prevent the build-up of diseases such as club root.
4. Water Management
A vigorous catch crop will provide excellent ground cover that will significantly reduce soil moisture loss due to evaporation during the summer. The water holding capacity of soil can be considerably improved as a result of an increase in humus content produced by the use of a catch crop. For example increasing the soil humus content by 0.5% can lead to soil being able to hold an additional 70 m3 of water per ha whilst improvements in soil structure will improve the rate at which soil drains.
5. Reduced risk of soil erosion.
The presence of a catch crop with a strong root structure and good ground cover will significantly reduce the risk of soil erosion whilst a crop is growing as well as over the longer term. This is of particular importance on fens and light, sandy soils.
6. Weed Control
Catch crops perform an excellent role in suppressing weeds and volunteers by smothering them with their dense canopies and vigorous growth. Companion seeding between crops can reduce the requirement for herbicides.
7. Bees and Insects
Catch crops can provide a much needed and plentiful source of late fodder for bees and other beneficial insects.
8. Bio Mass
As well as improving the yield potential of other crops, catch crops can provide a direct tangible benefit by improving the bio mass available for AD plants and silage for livestock.
Types of Catch Crop
1. Oil Radish – The All Rounder
An ideal catch crop! Oil Radish combines early establishment with a vigorous growth habit, deep root structure and dense foliage. Depending on the variety chosen, oil radish can contribute significantly to the management of soil borne pests and diseases such as Beet Cyst Nematode, Root Knot Nematode and Tobacco Rattle Virus.
2. White Mustard
Easy to grow with a high biomass yield and intolerance for winter, white mustard is an excellent catch crop. In addition specific varieties such as Veto can have a significant effect on reducing BCN.
Ideal for Oilseed Rape rotations as, unlike white mustard and oil radish, phacelia is not a member of the cruciferous family but is a borage. Phacelia is a nematode neutral intercrop and establishes rapidly producing an excellent root structure combined with dense ground cover and as such is an excellent catch crop. Phacelia can be effectively used in companion cropping systems to smother weeds and reduce herbicide use.
4. Saia Oat
Rapidly establishes high yields of biomass and has a beneficial effect on reducing Root Lesion and Stubby Root Knot Nematode. Faster establishing than annual ryegrass Saia Oats are ideal for weed suppression and reducing soil erosion, making them an ideal choice for light of sandy soils.
Incredibly vigorous, with a wide sowing window and very high biomass yield, Rye is the ideal low input catch crop to precede a late spring sown crop.
6. viterra Soil Fertility Blends
These mixes are formulated to combine individual catch crop varieties that will complement each other to perform in specific situations.
a) UNIVERSAL: A green manure mix for cereal/OSR rotations
b) INTENSIV: A green manure mix for root crop rotations
c) GRANOPUR: A late sown biomass mix
d/WICKROGGEN: An autumn sown winter hardy rye/vetch biomass mix